Online since August 2002

Revealing new sides to a legend

From the Winter 2004 issue.

Aces Back to Back!
Aces Back to Back!
By Bobby Darin

Hyena Records: 2004

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Bobby Darin would only be 68 today if he hadn't died too young from a bad heart 31 years ago.

Think about that – for all the great music he produced in too short a time, we lost out on a good three decades of what he could have created.

A new CD/DVD dual-disc release from Hyena Records provides a glimpse of Darin toward the end of his life, during his final comeback after a three-year layoff – and shows a singer reaching out far beyond his popular base of hits, into folks and even protest songs that belie his image as jive-talkin' establishment insider.

The thing is, for all the above disparate types of music, Darin was more than anything else about style. He had a gorgeous set of pipes, true, but what set him apart was the way he sang.

Sure, Darin could knock out the Vegas showstoppers – "Beyond the Sea," "Up a Lazy River," "Mack the Knife." Nobody did the finger-poppin' thing better.

But while it's nigh-on impossible to even imagine Sinatra singing a folk song (and his few efforts at it were generally discomfitting at best), an outtake from an unfinished documentary Darin was making about himself shows him on acoustic guitar singing a country folk song he was in the midst of writing, a protest song Johnny Cash would have appreciated.

And on the CD, there are covers of Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin and the Everly Brothers. Heck, Darin even provides a country song from his own pen, "Long Time Movin'," on which he whistles a solo!

Okay, and here's the thing: It absolutely fits Darin. The folk and country were just as much a part of who he was as the rock 'n' roll, the soul, the big band songs for which he is generally remembered.

Other reviewers have panned this release for supposedly skimming non-essential Darin to simply make a buck off his name. But this critic finds the other sides to Darin not only more revealing, but in many ways more rewarding to the listener. Don't get me wrong – "Mack the Knife" still gets the pulse going, always will, as it should.

But "Simple Song of Freedom," an acoustic folk song Darin wrote himself, is just as moving in its stark simplicity as his show-biz numbers are in their over-the-top glitz. And if its anti-war message is as simplistic as its arrangements, it still shows that Darin was willing to risk his popularity to speak his feelings.

The performances captured here may not be the classic ones for which Darin's reputation is forever sealed, but they are memorable and listeanble. In many ways, "Aces Back to Back" is a better introduction to Bobby Darin than any of his greatest-hits collections.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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